Do you know what happens when you breed two animals, then you breed their offspring, and you continue to breed within the family tree? The lack of crossbreeding causes major problems. Genetic defects that were once minor recessive traits become exaggerated. A line that began with two normal animals becomes offspring with mutations, defects, and deformities. Inbreeding begats gross genetic errors.
And theological inbreeding begats gross doctrinal errors.
We must take care to ensure that our theological family trees do not become inbred. Spending all our time listening to preachers we totally agree with, reading books by authors only from our theological camp, building friendships with others who share 99.9% of our doctrinal views is a recipe for theological disaster. Anomalies on an enormous scale. Theological inbreeding will result in exaggerated errors and gross mistakes. A lack of theological crossbreeding will procreate a mutant population of Christians.
Here are four concrete ways to introduce fresh blood to help you avoid becoming a mutant theologian:
Read authors you won’t agree with.
There is value in reading a well-written book–whether you agree with its content or not. I believe there is an unspoken sentiment among many that it is a waste of time, or even dangerous, to read books by certain authors outside of one’s theological camp. It’s as though interacting with their ideas will pollute the doctrinal ecosystem. Quite the contrary, you and I need authors, pastors, and theologians we disagree with to avoid becoming monstrous ogres.
Every author out there has at least one thing right that you have wrong. There is always benefit in reading a good author who uses compelling arguments, vibrant language, and passion. We ought to be able to enjoy a writer or speaker’s perspective regardless of whether we share their conclusions. Read authors who make compelling points, who challenge you to think, who force you to pray. Don’t let your library become a shrine to theological incest. Fill your shelves with authors from different stripes, backgrounds, and creeds. Even if you disagree, it will help you sympathize with others and sharpen your own perspectives.
Remember that book reviews are reviews and not books.
We live in an online society that churns out book reviews–which is fine. However, book reviews are not meant to replace the actual book. How many reviews of Rob Bell’s Love Wins did you read? Some of us, probably dozens. But did you actually read the book? What about Matthew Vines’ God and the Gay Christian? Five or ten reviews? Did you yourself interact with the author? We can fall into the habit of allowing our favorite bloggers and theologians do all the reading and analysis. Reviews are merely meant to whet the appetite. Get into the book yourself. Stretch your own theological legs. Read with honesty. Allow the author to make his own points. Enter into the narrative. You will thank yourself later.
Avoid the fear of “being converted”.
Some of us avoid certain books out of fear of being drawn in. What if I’m converted? What if I actually buy some of the author’s arguments? Praise the Lord! We are truth seekers. All truth is God’s truth, whether found in a book you 100% agree with or one you 99% disagree with. The Holy Spirit uses all kinds of means to hack off aberrant beliefs and soften rough doctrines. We should enter a book with the expectation that we will somehow be changed by the time we reach the back cover. This is not a fearful prospect but a gracious one.
Befriend people who don’t talk, act, or believe like you.
How many people do you interact with who hold completely different views from you? Are you building friendships with people of other denominations and faiths? A small circle of cookie-cutter friends will inevitably lead to theological inbreeding. When all of your discussions are an exercise in parroting back and forth the party lines, you will not grow–but your blind spots will. We need men and women in our lives who will challenge our thoughts and beliefs in profitable ways. It is not good for man to be alone. We need one another to grow and become the fully-orbed Christians God is making us to be. Collin Hansen’s latest book Blind Spots does a great job arguing this point.
Don’t be an inbred Christian. Allow others to breathe fresh winds into your beliefs, stirring up new thoughts and blowing away long held errors. Ultimately, God himself is at work forming and fashioning you to be more like Christ.